This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
I feel like when I serve sous vide meat it is cooler. I struggle to keep it warm from the sear to the table. Any suggestions? - Sally
Sally, this is a great question! It's definitely harder to keep sous vide food hot for as long as traditionally cooked food. This is in large part due to the temperature differences inside the meat that result from the different cooking methods.
With sous vide, even post sear, the temperature of just below the surface isn't much above the water bath temperature, usually between 130°F to 140°F for most meats (54.5°C to 60°C). This is because the water bath keeps the temperature even and gives you the lovely, evenly cooked "side to side" doneness. With traditional cooking you get the "bullseye" effect, where the outside layers are much more cooked than the inside. While this layering isn't as tasty, it is much hotter and therefore keeps the rest of the meat hotter for longer.
So, how to solve it? It's pretty tough to fully replicate the heat retention of traditionally cooked food but there are two methods that will help.
The easiest and most important way to ensure your food is hot is to serve it directly after searing. With traditional food we usually pull the meat off the heat and let it "rest" for 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking, distribute the heat more evenly, and cool off some, all of which helps to keep in the juices. We use this time to finish the sides, get the plating together, and set the table.
With sous vide, this always results in lukewarm food. Sous vide is already cooked to an even temperature so there is no reason to let it "rest" like you need to do with traditionally cooked foods. The longer the food sits after the sear, the cooler it will become, so make sure all your sides and plating is done before you sear the meat.
Note: For a great look at the science behind resting I highly recommend this Serious Eats article.
Sous vide also makes this easy because it is so forgiving. You can leave your meat in the water bath until you are about ready to serve dinner and this will greatly help minimize the heat loss.
Sometimes I want a real strong sear and I leave my meat out of the water bath for a while so it can cool off, letting me sear it longer. If you do this, just make sure you time the sear to finish when everything else is ready to be served. This doesn't work as well with a torch because it will not usually raise the temperature of the meat that much so torching is best done right after it comes out of the water bath.
The other simple way to keep sous vide food hot is to heat up your plates. Place some oven-safe plates into your oven then set it on the lowest setting it will go. This will keep your plates hot, which will carry over and keep your food hot for much longer. Just be sure to use pot holders because the plates can get hot.
If your oven doesn't go below 170°F (76°C) or so, you can let it heat up then turn it off before putting the plates in it. That way they aren't hot enough to burn people or continue cooking your food.
If your sides are done, and they are hot sides, you can even plate them before you put the dishes in the oven. That way they stay warm while you are searing the meat.
Hopefully those two methods will help you keep your sous vide meat hot until your friends and family can enjoy it!
In this lesson we discussed the main methods for keeping sous vide food hot until you serve it, including:
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Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy